Throughout 2022, UNBOXED have led a celebration of creativity across the UK, touring ten newly commissioned projects dedicated to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, to inspire innovation and unlock talent. We speak to UNBOXED’s Chief Creative Officer, Martin Green to find out more.
Can you give us an overview of UNBOXED?
UNBOXED is the biggest creative programme ever presented in the UK. It’s been taking place from March to October, across 10 completely different commissions, with teams assembled from across science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. Everything can be experienced for free, whether that’s a physical event through engaging with UNBOXED online.
What would you describe as your main aims or ethos?
A major part of UNBOXED is encouraging people to collaborate with colleagues from sectors they wouldn’t normally produce this sort of work with, using that as a blueprint to show that working creatively across different disciplines can result in innovations which wouldn’t otherwise be possible. We believe that the challenges we’re all facing in the future can hugely benefit from this sort of collaborative approach, and we want to see it becoming more habitual across all sectors.
We also don’t shy away from our belief that it’s more important than ever that people are able to come together to have shared experiences and perhaps meet others from their community. This is especially true now, during a time when finances are particularly stretched for many people and free events can be enormously valuable for breaking out of our regular routines.
In representing creativity across the UK, you bring together science, technology, engineering and maths – can you speak about how you define creativity?
Everything that has ever been made, or will ever be built, is the result of the creativity that lives in all of us. We believe that everyone is creative – that it’s completely inherent to the human condition. What changes is how we express it, and the confidence and opportunities we have to do so. Defining creativity is in itself a creative act – so rather than trying to find an answer that covers everyone, I would invite anybody reading this to take a moment to consider what it means to them. I think that’s much more interesting!
Audiences experience PoliNations in Birmingham
You have commissioned ten projects – how did you select the subject matter? Are there any overlapping themes?
When UNBOXED was first conceived, we had only two objectives: to bring people together, and to celebrate creativity. To achieve our objectives, we announced an open call for creatives from all over the UK to present us with their ideas for how this could be done.
From this, we invited 30 teams (we had 290 teams apply) to come up with ideas for large-scale public engagement projects. These teams brought together scientists, technologists, engineers, artists and mathematicians from across the UK – many of which had never worked with each other before. Following a rigorous assessment process, 10 teams were then commissioned to take their marvellous projects into full production.
Although all the commissions are wildly different, they share underlying themes of asking questions about where our human project is going – whether that’s about who is given the opportunity to express themselves, how we’re addressing our climate emergency, breaking down perceptions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, or how we encourage one another to use our natural curiosity and creativity to improve our life on earth. A central theme, given the nature of the commissioning process, is about how incredible innovation can be unlocked when people from very different sectors (who usually wouldn’t work together) creatively collaborate with an open mind. That’s one of the most interesting parts of the entire UNBOXED programme, in my opinion.
Do you have a favourite commission you could describe?
That would be like choosing your favourite child! I don’t want to avoid that question, but each of them have been so unique that it’s difficult to compare. I would say that recently we’ve all been fascinated with seeing SEE MONSTER take shape. If you’re not familiar, that commission is taking an old North Sea platform and putting it on land, in Weston-super-Mare, and turning it into the UK’s largest public art installation. It’ll have 12-metre waterfalls and wild gardens, along with lots of surprises for visitors who travel inside. Alongside all our other commissions, I definitely encourage you to learn more about it.
Who is UNBOXED’s programme for?
UNBOXED’s programme is truly meant to be for all ages. Although some of the commissions will appeal or be made for different ages or interests, we wanted to select commissions which we thought would be able to inspire people regardless of their age or background.
The SEE MONSTER awakens in Weston-super-Mare
How have you been able to reach a range of audiences through the festival?
We were conscious right from the beginning that we didn’t want UNBOXED to only be a programme which visits the ‘usual’ big cities, and because of that we’ve tried hard to ensure there are events and activities truly taking place around all corners of the UK. It’s been so rewarding to hear from local communities about how excited they are to have large-scale, ambitious work on their doorstep, and the reaction has been so positive. For example, when About Us toured to Caernarfon, we were hugely excited to learn that nearly twice as many people saw About Us in Caernarfon as live there!
Each commission has broadcast and digital elements too, which has allowed us to reach far more people than those who would only be able to attend in person. This has enabled UNBOXED to become much more accessible to an international audience – an ambition which has also been developed further by the ongoing work of our partners at the RSA and the British Council.
UNBOXED is a year-long festival – will there be any continuation or legacies after 2022 comes to a close?
Each of the commissions has different plans and intentions for its legacy. UNBOXED as an overall programme will come to an end, although we do hope that our key legacy is memory and inspiration. We hope that the project has inspired people across the UK to consider what’s possible when they work with different types of people in a creative way – especially when this involves different partnerships within the STEAM sectors.